[The first part of ‘Changing Stories?’, whose focus is culture, is here.]
Whereas myth comes from a place of primal belonging and is essentially conservative, science’s quickly moving and ever expanding boundaries call humans into uncertain and sometimes uncomfortable territory. Myth is tame, one might say–hardly apt to make any wild, unpredictable moves. Science, though, for all its cumulations on continuities, often surprises and challenges with sudden discontinuities.
A recent article by David Barash, the title of which plays on Milton’s epic poem, Paradigms Lost, explains some of the difficulties inherent in the modern imperative to integrate and balance stories from different fields, which themselves grow at variable speeds. Changing stories, it turns out, is made more complicated by having to change paradigms. Barash writes:
Many scientific findings run counter to common sense and challenge our deepest assumptions about reality: the fact that even the most solid objects are composed at the subatomic level of mostly empty space, or the difficulty of conceiving things that go beyond everyday experience, such as vast temperatures, time scales, distances and speeds, or (as in the case of continental drift) exceedingly slow movements – not to mention the statistically verifiable but nonetheless unimaginable ability of natural selection, over time, to generate outcomes of astounding complexity.
One may think of science and religion as different languages: certainly there is very reason to become bilingual in both, in our age, for each wields significant power. We would be greatly assisted by good translators or interpreters fluent and well-versed in the language of each of the ‘magisteria’ (i.e. of science and of humanities/religion). [An argument, if ever there were one, for the benefits of the liberal arts!]
Our understanding of reality is a serial revelation, a work in progress, and we need shepherding through the fields on our way. It may be something many people have already worked out, but for me one of the most hopeful aspects of scientific knowledge, is the fact that, just as discoveries are provisional in nature, human insights, too, are in the process of evolving. And, surely, if this is true experientially, our stories, too, must be changing, mustn’t they?
To conclude: a proposal. I mentioned earlier the cumulative nature of scientific work and this, for me, is one of the most compelling ways by which the scientific has found its way to (a modest) integration in my own mind. I think more history of science (and scientists) would be really useful to help us changing (not for change’s sake, merely, but for deepening our catholicity and complicating–in a good way–) our stories. In this interdisciplinary field there is just the sort of pattern recognition that even non-specialists can engage with.